Teens and some tweens are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Expanding the age group to include 12-15-year olds is an important step in the fight to end this pandemic. Dr. Stephen Rinderknecht, pediatrician and head of the UnityPoint Clinic vaccine committee, answers questions to help all families feel confident in rolling up their sleeves.
Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for My Child?
“The FDA (Federal Drug and Food Administration) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) assure the safety of these vaccines by taking the advice of our countries leading vaccine experts who aren’t affiliated with the manufactures or the government,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
If parents or children have questions or concerns, the best thing to do is to discuss it with the child’s primary care doctor. Even consider talking to the doctor about the vaccine during your child's back-to-school physical.
“Both of my two children have been vaccinated, but they are well out of the 12-15 age range. If I had an adolescent eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, I wouldn’t hesitate to get them vaccinated. I’d start by setting a good example by getting a vaccine myself,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
What is the Dosing of the COVID-19 Vaccine in the 12-15 Age Group?
“The dosing of the Pfizer vaccine, now authorized for use down to 12 years of age, is the same as what’s used in those 16 years and older, which is 0.3 mL. As in adults, the second dose is given at least three weeks (21 days) from the first dose,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
Usually those in the 12-15 age range receive the COVID-19 vaccine in their upper arm, but the thigh is an acceptable alternative. The need for a booster doses has not been determined at this time.
What are the Side Effects in the 12-15 Age Group?
According to the CDC, the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine including:
- Injection site pain
- Fatigue (Tiredness)
- Muscle aches
In studies, frequency and severity of the side effects in adolescents were the same as what’s seen in young adults who received the vaccine. Symptoms usually start within one to two days and last about a day. Except for pain at the injection site, more adolescents report side effects after the second dose than the first dose.
“Remember, side effects are a normal part of the vaccination process. These responses are proof of an immune system learning how to protect against COVID-19. If kids don’t feel these side effects, that’s fine too. The vaccine is still effective,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Does Not Impact Fertility in Children
While it’s understandable for parents and caregivers to ask about how the COVID-19 vaccine will impact a child’s future – the truth is it only protects their future.
“There is no evidence any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility side effects. It’s misinformation someone spread to make people feel uneasy. Furthermore, plenty of adults who’ve received the vaccine have gone on to become pregnant,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
Additionally, it’s much riskier to go without the COVID-19 vaccine. The long-term impacts of this virus aren’t fully known yet. It’s a safer and healthier choice to get children vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
When Should My Child Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
The sooner you can get children 12 and older vaccinated, the better.
Up until recently, it was recommended to give the COVID-19 vaccine without any other vaccine for at least 14 days, both before and after. This was out of an abundance of caution. Due to substantial safety data, COVID-19 and other vaccines may now be given at the same time without concern for the 14-day window.
Remember, it takes two weeks after the second dose to be fully protected with the COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine available for use in ages 12 to 17. You’ll want to keep timing in consideration if you want your child vaccinated before the colder weather arrives.
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Should Children Who’ve Had COVID-19 Get the Vaccine?
Just like adults, those 12-15 years of age who’ve already had COVID-19 should still be vaccinated.
“The vaccine is proven to be safe in those with evidence of prior infection, disease or asymptomatic (not showing symptoms). Vaccination assures the most complete immunity. Studies prove immunity from a COVID-19 infection is not long lasting in some people,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
Children Don’t Typically Get as Sick from COVID-19, So Why Should They Get Vaccinated?
Even though kids don’t typically get as ill with COVID-19, it’s still very important for them to get vaccinated. Here are four reasons why:
- Over 20 percent of new cases are currently in the pediatric age range (under 18).
- Although less common, kids still get sick from COVID-19 and are more likely to suffer from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome.
- Kids can be silent carriers and spread the disease to others who are high risk.
- The long-term effects of COVID-19 is still unknown. Some people, even children, go on to have symptoms for months after their initial illness.
What Happened in the Clinical Trial for the 12-15 Age Group?
The Pfizer clinical trial involved more than 2,000 children in the 12-15 age range. The children went through the same trial process as adults, with half receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and half receiving the placebo (saline solution). Of the participants, there were no cases of symptomatic COVID-19 disease in the vaccine group. There were 18 cases in the placebo group.
“Researchers also collected information by using a process called immunobridging. It studies the immune response (antibody levels) of the vaccinated persons (12-15 years of age) compared to the immune response in another group (16-25 years of age) who are already protected by the COVID-19 vaccine. In this study, the immune response in the younger group was actually better than the older group,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
What’s Next in the COVID-19 Vaccine Development for Children?
It’s expected to see a two-dose vaccine approved for use in adolescents by Moderna next. That pharmaceutical company uses the same mRNA development process for its vaccine as Pfizer.
“The vaccine is currently being studied for use in younger children. It’s likely we’ll see a COVID-19 vaccine for kids down to the age of 2 first. Then, a little bit later, we expect a vaccine for babies as young as six months,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.